Saturday, December 6, 2008

Books and Music

Last night was lovely, in part thanks to my friend Kyle T. Wilson, who allowed me to join him at the Colburn Conservatory of Music downtown for a recital by the Calder Quartet. Thank you, Kyle!

It's been a while since I've seen a live music event. Or a movie, for that matter. (I'm determined to see Milk before it's out of theaters.) Theater is rather all-consuming for me right now. This was a perfect music event to attend. Ben Jacobson and Andrew Bulbrook played violins, Jonathan Moerschel played the viola and Eric Byers played the cello. We had great seats in Zipper Hall -- a lovely mid-sized concert hall with a great, tall ceiling. The first piece they played was Mozart's String Quartet No. 19 in C Major, K. 465 ("Dissonance," 1785). It was a fabulous contrast for the second piece that they played (with pianist Gloria Cheng), Thomas Ades' Piano Quintet (2000).

Kyle is a fan of Thomas Ades, a young composer (if one can call someone who is exactly the same age as me, 37, "young") who has been in residence at the LA Philharmonic this year.
A small digression. I *do* think that Thomas Ades is a young composer. It seems to me that any classical composer who is alive and working today is a young composer, in a way. What a strange perception of time! If you are not dead (like Mozart and Beethoven and even Rachmaninoff), you are young to me, according to the strange clock in my head. Interesting. I should set my clock that way for playwrights. But maybe then I'd be giving myself too much time, and might waste it...
Ades' piece was violent and funny and existential and surprising, and I must e-mail Geoffrey Pope about him. I really liked it!

I know I appreciated the piece more after having the experience of working with Geoffrey and the music he composed for Song of Extinction -- an original piece for the viola that he calls "Disembarking." He composed the first draft several years ago, while he was studying composition at USC, as an undergrad. It was lyrical and lovely -- he's a very talented young man. The notes I gave him had to do with making the piece a bit more violent and angry, to help track the journey of young Max through the play, as he struggles mightily with his mother's impending death. His new version, written in Rochester, New York, where he's now doing graduate work at Eastman, is all that in spades. I loved it.

Geoffrey and Mr. Ades were doing some similar things in their pieces of music. They're both more existential than comforting, more rough than lyrical. Things come apart more before they're put back together. They push the instruments to do more things. Plunking (my word for something that's really called pizzicata, where you pluck the strings), strange high sounds in the farthest registers of the instrument... Ades did some intriguing following/falling kinds of sounds in his piece, where the musicians played not in tandem, but just *off* tandem. Which made it all the more powerful when they played together.

I'm going to go buy the Calder Quartet's "Maurice Ravel-Thomas Ad├Ęs-W.A. Mozart" album on I-Tunes now. Apparently I'm a fan now, too.

That was a lot on music. Here's a little on books. Bought copies of Lanford Wilson's "Burn This" and Helene Hanff's "84, Charing Cross Road" at the used bookstore that's inside Santa Monica Library for 50 cents each. Love Lanford. And the other book is just delightful. Will share it with Mom at Christmas.

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